The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive were both released in 2016, but what was the best VR experience of the year? The RPS Advent Calendar highlights our favourite games of the year, daily, and behind today’s door is...
Virtual artistry tool Tilt Brush.
Alec: Tilt Brush was pretty much the first thing I used once I had a VR headset. I have played and ‘experienced’ a great deal of virtual reality software since then, but Google’s wizardly air-painting toy remains the only thing I’d name a VR essential.
Killer app? Well, maybe. There’s something of a glass ceiling to it - if you’re a standard-issue human being like me, you start off using it, believing you’ll be creating miraculous things in short order, then finding that there’s a hard limit to your own patience, foresight and even imagination. Tilt Brush itself? No such limitation. The stuff that actual artists and sculptors are doing with it is flat-out incredible, and it’s that which makes this particular VR app still make me feel that I have slipped into some other plane of reality.
A lot of VR software has killed my enthusiasm for the concept. Either the tech’s not truly ready yet, or the human brain simply burns out on awe all too soon. Every time I revisit Tilt Brush, something as simple as painting a hoop on the sky reminds me that, with the right software, VR is the coolest toy there ever has been.
It’s a powerful tool for artists, yes. It’s also magical sparklers for anyone.
Pip: This is the VR toolset which got me really excited about the medium. The controls were pretty straightforward (although very menu-ish as opposed to totally reconceptualised for VR as with Fantastic Contraption) and once I knew how to select a mark-making type and a colour I was good to go.
I think it's accessible to everyone in the sense that pens and paper are accessible to everyone, and the drawing directly into 3D is wonderful and strange so I think pretty much everyone will get something out of the novelty factor, but what you do beyond that will depend on your own skill with the medium. I can imagine drawing a house as part of a demo and being pleased but never going back, and I can imagine opening up the toolset and learning how to build entire landscapes or stage sets or fantastical immersive artworks to share. You get glimpses of that when you load up the Tilt Brush projects uploaded by artists and watch them ping into life around you. Parrots with glowing neon feathers, fruit bowls, buildings…
I think my favourite thing was playing with the sense of scale. I ended up sketching out a tree but only the parts of the trunk and leaves and roots I could reach so it was this strange form, half poking into the virtual sketchbook world, half still hidden.
There are other ideas I have, too, which exploit the fact you can walk through surfaces and the way that leads to moments of discovery. It's also really cool to just put the headset on and kind of… curate your own sensory deprivation tank. You're in this empty world, and you get to make it whatever you like. I get that Tilt Brush only really opens up if you have both the inclination to create and a smattering of ability when it comes to turning your ideas into three-dimenional lines. But it's a fantastically legible toolset which is being used to create some truly extraordinary experiences.